Business owners sometimes get heartburn when reading anonymous complaints about their business on various websites. Individuals sometimes get heartburn when posting complaints about a business that may trigger the business filing a lawsuit against them.
On August 18, 2016, the San Francisco Daily Journal, a newspaper for the legal profession, reported on a pending lawsuit in a Los Angeles County Superior Court.
Nine anonymous workers posted negative reviews on Glassdoor’s website about their employer. Glassdoor publishes information about employers derived from anonymous persons purporting to be current or former employees. The employer contacted Glassdoor about 12 allegedly defamatory reviews posted in the past year, six of which Glassdoor removed after being served with a subpoena to uncover the identities of the posts’ authors. The posts described the employer as a hostile workplace with unsatisfied clients, and alluded to questionable ethical practices.
The employer filed a lawsuit against the nine persons as “Doe” defendants for defamation and unfair competition. Once the identities of the persons is known, the complaint will be amended to show the true identity of the individuals.
Glassdoor, not a party to the litigation, refused to reveal the identities of its posters. Glassdoor then retained legal counsel on behalf of the users to accept service of the employer’s lawsuit and then file an anti-SLAPP (“strategic lawsuit against public participation”) claim against the employer.
The judge dismissed most of the defamation claims on grounds that the negative posts were made in a public forum on a topic of public interest, considered protected speech. Other claims against four defendants were not dismissed because the judge believes that their posts contained statements of fact rather than protected opinion.
The employer believes that the judge should not have dismissed any claims because the jury should decide whether the posts are fact or opinion. Glassdoor plans to appeal the judge’s decision not to dismiss all claims.